Home Lewiston looking to suck

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This story is part of an ongoing series about Lewiston housing. Write to mainefocus bangordailynews. See all the stories here. Dunne has been a landlord in Lewiston for three decades, and most of his properties have been in the downtown, the poorest neighborhood in the state. As he drove around a corner, he saw a woman on the sidewalk he recognized. He had been a landlord so long, he said, he had rented to her, then her daughter and, eventually, her granddaughter. Dunne and Sullivan mostly rent low-cost apartments to people living on the margins, tenants other landlords often reject.

But they have stopped accepting those funds, called general assistance, since the city last year began requiring apartments to pass inspections to qualify for the money, which comes from state and local taxpayers. Dunne and Sullivan, and their associated companies, have been the most frequent target of city lawsuits aimed at forcing landlords to fix up their buildings. Partly because Dunne and other landlords no longer accept general assistance, the city has seen its payments for the aid plummet nearly 70 percent in one year.

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As he drove, Dunne told stories about tenants. One recent tenant stopped paying rent, and, when Dunne went to her apartment, found that she had skipped town and moved another family into the place. Other tenants kicked out balusters supporting hallway railings. Some brought in mattresses off the street — Trojan horses for bedbug invasions. McKinney moved into a four-bedroom downtown Auburn apartment in March But Dunne did not provide a key to the place, McKinney said. So, for the first several weeks he lived there, McKinney drilled four 3-inch screws into the door to his apartment to secure his belongings inside.

There was also a leak in the bathroom, he said. When it rained, the leak produced a steady stream of water into the bucket McKinney put down. During the winter, the heat came and went. In the middle of the night, McKinney had to walk down to the Home Lewiston looking to suck and reset the furnace. To Dunne, the criticism is nothing new. Multiple times, Dunne paid for heating oil to heat buildings his operation did not own to prevent tenants from going cold, said Jeff Baril, a retired Lewiston police officer and code enforcement officer.

His contradictions continue. Dunne drew national attention when he put up political s in against mayoral candidate Ben Chin that were decried as racist for comparing Chin, who is of Asian descent, with the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. Dunne later apologized. Sullivan declined to comment. In recent years, however, Dunne and Sullivan have shrunk their portfolio. City records from this summer show that declining to zero.

But Dunne said he does not intend to get out of the landlord game anytime soon, despite claiming he has not turned a profit in years. He said he continues in order to keep his workers employed. And he values the flexibility of the job, which has long allowed him to spend time with his year-old daughter, who has special needs.

Dunne told him no. Wearing black velcro sneakers splattered with flecks of white paint, the landlord had been shepherding his crew members from property to property all day. The young man kept pedaling. The city said it wants to get landlords to put money into properties, not levy fines. Other landlords with fewer buildings have been asked to pay far more. Probably not. Henrique Ramos, 49, wished Dunne would be more able for the conditions in his apartment.

But he also might not have found an apartment without Dunne. He could not get it off the wall. The windows did not fully close, he said, which let winter wind enter the apartment. The door to his outside porch also would not shut, and he went months without a functioning bathroom sink. He said he told Dunne about these problems again and again. It is unclear how Ramos would have found housing if not for Dunne. Ramos originally secured the place before he was eligible to work, using general assistance funds from the city.

Since general assistance does not cover security deposits, Dunne gave Ramos the apartment without one. Dunne and Sullivan gradually Home Lewiston looking to suck accepting general assistance payments to cover rent after the city started an inspection program last summer. The program requires code enforcement to make sure apartments are repaired and safe before allowing general assistance recipients to live there.

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It brings the city in line with all other tax-funded housing assistance programs, which require inspections. Dunne and Sullivan still accept federal housing vouchers, which come with their own set of inspections. For him, that means the prospect of being forced to make ificant investments in his property or face potential fines and lawsuits.

ly, code only came by if it received a complaint or noticed problems from the outside.

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Since the inspection program began, the amount of general assistance funds distributed by the city to landlords as a whole has plummeted due to a combination of factors, including a decline in applicants and a lack of affordable housing. At the same time, those remaining applicants have fewer places to rent. Some landlords have decided to stop accepting general assistance because of the required inspections, she said. And sinceLewiston estimates that the city and private owners have demolished as many as housing units as part of an effort to deal with distressed housing.

Over that same timeframe, the city added just 71 new units. It currently has about 9, rental units. A shrinking supply of apartments has resulted in a tighter housing market. Prices have started to rise, and affordable homes are hard to find. Pastor Charles Ernesto said the housing situation in the city had drastically changed since he arrived from Angola in As of mid-October, the city completed 97 inspections for general assistance recipients, Brackett said.

Code found violations at 29 of the properties, and 16 are now in compliance. While it is rare for the inspection process to force people out of their home, it happened to Thethe Kabole, an asylum seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After a three-month trek from Brazil to Mexico, four months in detention on U.

But there were problems with the apartment, Home Lewiston looking to suck with the fridge, sink, toilet and windows, Kabole said through a translator. She told Dunne about the issues, but he did not fix them, she said. Two months passed after the city instructed Dunne to make the necessary fixes, she said. When he did not, the city canceled her general assistance and gave her a new voucher to find another apartment. But she had no luck. In late summer, Kabole was living with a friend and her children in a different apartment. She had been in the U. Dunne said the city is taking away agency from people on general assistance through its inspection program.

Tenants look at the apartment before deciding to live there, he said. But there are new landlords moving into Lewiston who believe that attitude is representative of an old business model, one that has hurt the city. Perhaps the most outspoken is Jay Allen, who said he now owns nearly 40 units in Lewiston, as well as a handful in Portland. While Allen is fixing up apartments and providing them at relatively low rates, however, he admitted he cannot afford to accept general assistance.

After years of tenant organizing and housing activism, Melissa Dunn gets calls when people need help finding a home. A few months ago, Dunn, who sits on the board of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, received a call asking for help for a homeless woman and her family. The woman used a motorized wheelchair, and the battery was dying, Dunn was told. Dunn found the family on the banks of the Androscoggin River with nowhere to go and paid to put the family up in a hotel.

That family was still living with Dunn when they saw Joe Dunne approach at a Lewiston gas station earlier this month. The landlord struck up a conversation, which both parties Home Lewiston looking to suck as far more cordial than interactions between the two. He did not. Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News.

He sighed. Credit: Troy R. Lewiston might be changing, but there is still demand for a Dunne apartment. BDN writer Callie Ferguson contributed to this report. More articles from the BDN. A vacant lot in downtown Rockport could be turned into a boutique hotel.

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Home Lewiston looking to suck

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Surveying his shrinking empire, Lewiston’s most notorious landlord questions his tenants’ fate